Category Archives: art

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life, or Something

Noire et blanche by Man Ray, 1926

You there: Settle a bet. Would this be art imitating life, or life imitating art? Or life imitating art imitating life?

This is going to take some explaining, so please be patient.

Round House Theatre’s production of Thomas Gibbons’s Permanent Collection, about a racially charged struggle for control of a museum, doesn’t open for three weeks. But the Phillips Collection is hosting a preview of selected scenes this evening. Why the Phillips? Because it’s about to close Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens — a brilliant, unconventional exhibit that touches on many of the same issues vis-à-vis how race impacts art’s perceived value that Gibbons’s 2004 drama does. Continue reading

The Folger’s Radiant Arcadia: Sexy-Time for Your Brain

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Whaddaya mean I’m two years too late for a Borat joke?

This still from Aaron Posner’s brilliant new staging of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the Folger wouldn’t make me want to run out and see it, really. But I hope my DCist review will inspire you to do just that. Best thing I’ve seen on a stage in 2009, certainly, and probably going back a goodly while earlier than that. Run, don’t walk.

What, you want more? Okay. Review proper begins after the jump.
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Art Spiegelman: Deleted Scenes

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What a thrill it was for me to talk last week with comics master Art Spiegelman, who’ll give his Comix 101 lecture tonight at the Corcoran. If you’re still curious after reading my preview (it’s a PDF) in today’s Examiner (aimed, like Spiegelman’s talk, at comic book civilians, after all), here’s a little more Spiegelmania, in the from of excerpts from our conversation last Thursday.
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Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

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Constellation’s Succesful Marriage

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Katy Carkuff and Joe Brack rehearse a scene from The Marriage of Figaro.

“Apollo’s warrant” and “Wag-errant” do not rhyme — not really — but Allison Stockman doesn’t want to hear it. By which we mean she does want to hear it: “Embrace the rhyme,” she instructs her charges. “Make it rhyme!”

Words to live by, or at least to perform by.

It’s a Sunday afternoon half a week into the new year, and Stockman is dismissing the cast of Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro from the Source building’s second floor rehearsal room overlooking fashionable 14th Street NW. Their homework? To parse the rhythm of the play’s spoken prologue. But “Embrace the rhyme” could just as well be a glib reduction of the company’s mission statement, which promises “visionary, expressive design with heightened physical movement and elevated language.”

That probably reads well on a grant application, but Stockman’s self-descibed “epic ensemble” has built a reputation for delivering the goods, establishing itself less in barely more than a year and a half as a destination for actors and audiences alike. Constellation made its splashy debut with a June 2007 production of August Strindberg’s obscure A Dream Play, as reworked by Caryl Churchill. (“Brisk, accessible, and surprisingly humorous,” praised This Very Newspaper at the time.) An imaginative, highly popular The Arabian Nights followed the same year.

Since then, Constellation has taken on — with varying degrees of success — critiques of socioeconomics and ethics (Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechwan), Greek tragedy (The Oriestia) and Faust-as-political allegory (Vaclav Havel’s Temptation).

The texts, which Stockman selects with the company’s seven “associate artists,” outwardly have little in common except that they call for large ensembles (a trait Stockman looks for) were all written, or derived from source material, in languages other than English (which she says she hadn’t even noticed). But the 34-year-old Baltimore native and former teacher has nonethless made her productions reflect a unified artistic vision. The link is Constellation’s house style; one that incorporates original music, dance and unabashedly outsized performances.

But — this is important — they’re still plays. Not musicals.

Not even Figaro, best known as a Mozart opera.

No, this “Figaro” comes more or less from the source: Pierre Beaumarchais’s long-censored 1778 sex comedy (or “comedy of manners,” if we must) wherein, as in the movie Braveheart, a nefarious regal type stirs up trouble by invoking his right of primae noctis — basically, dibs on a local virgin before she’s married off to some other dude. (And you complain about your taxes!) Stockman needs a little prodding to admit she stitched the script together herself from a half-dozen translations, though she’s quick to share credit with dramaturg Christie Denny, and to point out that on-the-fly revisions have come from the entire cast.

For this “period-Lite” production, Stockman is emphasizing the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, treating her actors to a workshop conducted by mimes Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell.

Visually, Stockman and resident designer A.J. Guban are using the oblong shapes of Gaudi’s buildings and Goya’s “light, pastoral” paintings as their touchstones. Costumer Yvette M. Ryan has dressed the title character and his bride — both servants — more modestly than is historically accurate, to help the audience grasp the hierarchy of the characters, given that class is one of Beaumarchais’s major themes. It’s a liberty Stockman was happy to take.

“We’ve got this French play, set in Spain, that’s best known for being an Italian opera written by an Austrian, and we’re doing it in the U.S.” she laughs. “So we felt like we had some freedom.”

Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro is at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW. (800) 494-8497. Thursday-Feb. 22. $20. Tickets are here.

A slightly shorter version of this story appears in today’s Paper of Record.

How Theater Failed America

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I reviewed Mike Daisey’s deeply personal indictment of the theatre for DCist.

Marat/Sade at Forum

Fringe is over, but Forum’s Marat/Sade has two more weekends left in its run. Reviewed for DCist . . . more than a week ago. I’m a bit behind in my blogkeeping.

Wagon of Sorrow: Theater of War at SILVERDOCS

John Walter’s brilliant documentary, reviewed for DCist.

UPDATE 6/26/08: I got a nice e-mail about the review from Theatre of War director/editor John Walter, who reports that he is shopping the film around for a distributor. Best of luck to you, John! It’s a great documentary, and it deserves as wide a release as it can get.

John also sent this cool one-sheet image:

With Great Power . . .

Detail from Steve Ditko\'s original artwork for Amazing Fantasy No. 15, August 1962

Went down to the Library of Congress today to look at Steve Ditko’s original artwork from Amazing Fantasy No. 15 — which y’all know was the first appearance of Spider-Man, right?

Awesome. The original artwork — donated anonymously to the LoC about a month ago. For Spider-Man and the three other stories, also penned by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, that comprised the issue. It would take seven months after the publication of this, final issue of Amazing Fantasty (nee Amazing Adult Fantasy) for Spidey to get his own title. Forty-six years later, he’s still going strong.

I’ll have a story about it in the paper next weekend.

Screwtape, Sara, and Superman (The Devil, the Diva, and the Demigod)

Reviewed The Screwtape Letters at the Landburgh and Sara Bareilles at the 9:30, and rounded up tomorrow’s Free Comic Book Day revels for DCist.

Tonight: Crowded House’s first DC show in something like 14 years!

Lou Reed vs. the 9:30 Club

Lou Reed called his most famous live album “Rock and Roll Animal,” but the title was kind of a joke even then, in 1974. The unofficial poet laureate of New York City is one of the least-pandering rockers ever, and his complete absorption in the music gives him a paradoxical charm: Like all icons of existential cool, he seems truly not to give semi-consensual anonymous back-alley fuck whether you like him or not.

Take Tuesday night’s powerful but frustratingly brief show at the 9:30 Club. The majority of the mere dozen songs performed were mid-80s-and-later album cuts, with only “Sweet Jane” (disposed of early in the set) and “Perfect Day” among Reed’s “hits.” He might have rolled his eyes introducing the Velvet Underground curio “I’m Sticking with You” (“This was in ‘Juno,’ that’s why we’re doing it”) but you just never know with this guy. Reed’s signature speak-singing, as distinct and authoritative as Johnny Cash’s, sometimes seems to veil everything in a protective layer of sarcasm.

Increasingly as he’s aged, Reed, 66, has used this vocal armor to get away with naked, frank introspection that would sound insufferably weak in anybody else’s mouth. (‘Naked’ is not just a metaphor here — few songwriters have addressed sex as Reed has, viscerally but with more revulsion than prurience.) The sole new song he performed, but didn’t identify, was like this, with its refrain, “the power of the heart.” But his tough-guy delivery also makes him out-loud funny sometimes, as in the well-chosen opener, “Mad.” (“I know I shouldn’t have had someone else in our bed, but I was so tired / Who would think you’d find a bobby pin?”)

The sold-out crowd followed Reed through his back pages without hesitation, though it was probably the incendiary chemistry of the band — featuring lead guitarist Steve Hunter, reunited with Reed from the 1973 “Berlin” album, along with longtime members Mike Rathke, Tony “Thunder” Smith, and Rob Wasserman — on numbers like “Ecstacy” and “Video Violence” that moved them. Reed rescued two from his fascinatingly clunky The Raven, adapted from/inspired by Poe: “I Wanna Know” felt unintentionally comic with drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith filling in for the Blind Boys of Alabama (not a task to be wished upon anyone), but “Guardian Angel” had the wrecked beauty of Reed’s best material.

The main-set finale was an apocalyptic “Magic and Loss,” Reed’s title cut from an album that chronicles two of his friends’ slow deaths from cancer. (Rock on, Washington DC!) “There’s a bit magic in everything,” goes one lyric, “then some loss to even things out.” That sounds about right.

A slightly shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.
NPR recorded this show for webcast pending Lou’s approval; they’re still waiting on that as of yesterday. Check their blog for some amusing stuff about how Lou kept them scrambling to find the right gear to capture the show to his exacting specifications.

Lou Reed at the 9:30 Club, Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Setlist

01 Mad

02 Sweet Jane

03 I’m Set Free

04 Ecstasy

05 I’m Sticking with You

06 [new one w/ some refrain about “the power of the heart,” Lou said it was new but didn’t give a title]

07 I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum)

08 Halloween Parade

09 Video Violence

10 Guardian Angel

11 Magic and Loss (The Summation)

ENCORE:

12 Perfect Day

The Band

Steve Hunter – lead guitar

Mike Rathke – guitar

Rob Wasserman – upright bass

Kevin Hearn – keyboards, vocals

Tony “Thunder” Smith – percussion, vocals

Seth Calhoun – “live electronics”

Lou – lead vocals, guitar

UPDATE: Excepted from the April 29 edition of WashPo pop critic J. Freedom du Lac’s “Freedom Rock” webchat:

Mt. Pleasant, D.C.: Please, please tell Post writers and all the critics you know to stop using phrases like “the unofficial poet laureate of New York City” to describe Lou Reed, because he apparently reads these reviews, takes them to heart and then decides 75 minutes of rambling, mid-tempo pretense constitutes a good show. Sure “naked, frank introspection” is a good thing, but it’s not enough to make up for high school literary magazine-quality lyrics and a kind of ostentatious lack of enthusiasm from the guy. I disagree with your colleague Chris Klimek the words sounded “insufferably weak” even from the mouth of The Great Man. I mean, he’s a legend, he can do what he wants, and no one needs to hear “Walk on the Wild Side”� again. But a little energy and a little wit to balance the ballads would have made for a show that was actually worth watching.

J. Freedom du Lac: Duly noted — and possibly/probably something Chris will respond to if he’s reading in real-time, or something close to it.

Everybody knows (or should know) that rock’s real poet laureate of NYC is actually Patti Smith.

But I thought the show was pretty solid. Not great, but absolutely worth watching, even if he did half-arse his way through some of the material, “Sweet Jane” especially. Maybe he was just tired after his weekend wedding.

Irish Song of the Damned

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A recent-ish (and Shane-less? Is that him, supine in the foreground at left? I can’t tell.) photo of the Pogues.

So. Spent the last two nights at the 9:30 seeing the Pogues for the first and second time. Hardly the debauched evening I might have expected if I’d seen them 20 years ago, but they sounded great.

I was on company time the first show (Paper of Record review here), when I spied Baltimore Sun newsman-turned-Homicide author-turned-creator of The Wire, David Simon, walking up to the VIP balcony. I waited around to try to talk to him after the show, but was told the balcony was closed for a private function.

Simon’s presence at a Pogues show on Sunday evening was ironic because the final episode The Wire had begun airing on HBO about 15 minutes before the Pogues took the stage, and because the Pogues’ music has been featured prominently in several episodes of the billiant HBO series. “Metropolitan” has scored at least one of Det. Jimmy McNulty’s  (Dominc West) adventures in drunk driving, but more to the point, there’s a tradition on the show — one that presumably, given Simon’s insistence on authenticity even in the most minute details, has its origins in the actual practice of the Baltimore Police Department — that when a cop dies, his brothers in arms lay him out on a pool table, eulogize him, and then sing the Pogues’s “The Body of an American” over him.

Sunday night, the Pogues played “Body” 12th in their set of 26 songs, I think. I turned around to try to catch a glimpse of Simon’s face but couldn’t see him just then.

Anyway, Paper of Record pop critic J. Freedom du Lac blogged about my sighting, and The Reliable Source picked it up today.

I still wish I could have spoken to Simon. I’ve got lots of things I’d like to ask him, about journalism and music and filmmaking and The Wire, but if I only had a second I’d thank him for creating what I’m hardly the first to call the most sophisticated and truthful show probably in the history of television. One of the funniest and most moving, too.

SMILFS to Go ‘Round: Shintoku-Maru at the KenCen

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Wow. No, really. Wow.

I expanded upon my reaction to Yukio’s Ninagawa’s Shintoku-Maru for DCist.

We’ll Find That Bastard If It’s the Last Thing We Do

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Solas Nua’s Trad, reviewed in DCist today.

Mightily do I dig Solas Nua. Their Scenes from the Big Picture at Catholic back in May was what we pointy-headed aesthetes like to call “the shit.” I had a nice talk with Jessi Burgess, founder of the Inkwell, at their opening gala Saturday night. She’s directing the next Solas Nua show, Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlan, so we have reason to expect greatness, or at least grooviness.

This Movie Is Not a Rebel Movie, This Movie is U23D

Bono fronts the World's Biggest Band while sporting the World's Most Inclusive Headband.

Bono fronts the World's Biggest Band while sporting the World's Most Inclusive Headband.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of being right up close at a U2 concert, let me divulge with a spoiler: Bono — a.k.a. Paul Hewson, a.k.a. The Fly, a.k.a Mr. MacPhisto; champion of Africa and two-time Nobel Prize nominee; debt-relief crusader and F-bomb-dropping bane of the Federal Communications Commission; the big-brained, big-hearted, big-mouthed and wholly unembarrassable frontman for The (all together now) World’s Biggest Band — is a wee, short little dude. Five-seven, five-eight, tops. When he performs — and truly, no rock and roll frontman has ever looked more at ease serenading a stadium-load of air guitarists than this guy — he wears thick-soled boots that give him an extra inch-and-a-half on the vertical plane. Every little bit helps, right?

But to paraphrase Al Capone, you can get further with a pair of platform shoes and a 3-D IMAX film that captures your every messianic gesture in close-up — and then projects your mug with frightening, acne-scarred digital clarity on a screen six stories high — than you can with platform shoes alone.

Thus arrives U23D, the most unambiguously-titled movie since, um, Aliens vs. Predator. It’s an 85-minute concert film compiled from a half-dozen early 2006 stadium gigs from U2’s Vertigo Tour. (Two other concert DVDs from the Vertigo Tour have already come out, making it perhaps the most exhaustivelydocumented rock roadshow since Bono created the world in seven days. Oh, relax, would you? I’m kidding now.) Released through National Geographic (!) exclusively in IMAX theatres, it’s the first live-action film to be completely shot and edited using a digital 3D process that James Cameron helped to develop and is using to shoot Avatar, his post-Titanic return to features. The results are, from a purely technical perspective, extraordinary.

The images have a convincing illusion of depth, and the film’s sound design contributes to the immersive feel of the thing by discretely separating different vocal and instrumental sounds. On “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” for example, your hear Bono’s lead vocal in front of you and the Edge’s backing part somwhere behind your head.

While this captures the feeling of being there more convincingly than traditional concert movies, it’s still a wholly unique experience, equally removed from a gig or a film. For one thing, you can both see and hear better than you would from even the best seat in the house at an actual concert, with the cameras giving us a variety of perspectives that would be impossible to achieve in a live situation. Of course, many concert films do this much, but at the cost of immediacy. Not so here: You feel the crowd (or, in some thrilling band POV shots, your fellow performers) around you at every moment.

The sound design, too, emphasizes the rumble-in-the-gut feel of a concert over a pristine presentation of the music, allowing crowd noise to remain a constant presence in the mix. No overdubs were added after the shoots. Bono’s once-mighty vox, an uncertain quantity in recent years, gets a little help, with the film’s audio selectively mixed to hide its limitations. (The culprits seem to be poor vocal technique and smoking rather than age — though it seems impossible given all he’s achieved, Bono is only 47 in Earth-years.)

With their two world tours of the 1990s, Zoo TV and PopMart, U2 did more than any band ever had, practically or artistically, to compress the space of a football stadium into a place where something like intimacy was possible. So it makes sense that they’d want to try to advance the medium of the concert film in the same way. As co-directred by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, both longtime associates of the band, U23D errs on the side of taste, preferring long takes to the hyperactive jump cuts of many concert films and avoiding the eye-poking novelty of the other 3D movies you’ve seen. There’s little sense of Bonozilla terrrizing Tokyo (or indeed Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Santiago, or Buenos Aires, the cities where the movie was shot). The “wipe your tears away” passage of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is the only point I can recall at which he directly reaches out to “touch” the viewer.

2008_0123_TheEdge.jpg The 3-D effect is most striking in the crowd shots, wherein the sea of heads and arms seems to extend outward from the screen even as they vanish into a horizon of camera flashes and illuminated cel phones. Bono’s hand gestures get some John Madden-eqsue etch-a-sketch accompaniment during “Love and Peace or Else.” In most concert videos, this sort of embrodiery is always a mistake, but the way the digital “chalk lines” seems to hover in midair actually makes you wish U23D indulged in a bit more of this sort of gimmickry.

Dramatic low angles and backlighting only make The Edge want to rock harder. Photo courtesy @U2.

At 14 songs and 85 minutes, U23D is only about two-thirds as long as a typical Vertigo Tour concert, which will be enough for all but the diehards. Things begin rather clunkily with the ubiquitous iPod jingle “Vertigo,” a fun rocker but not a show-starter. U2 know how to make an entrance like few other bands, but that’s one aspect of a U2 show that Owens and Pellington have missed entirely, instead giving us some dull slo-mo footage of fans running into the venue.

Predictably, the songs included are mostly U2’s Greatest Hits — “Beautiful Day,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “One” — but a few worthy album tracks make the cut. Most notable is “Miss Sarajevo, the band’s 1995 elegy for that war-torn city. When Bono sings the Italian verse that Luciano Pavarotti performed on the recorded version, it’s one of the highlights in terms of sheer performance. Meanwhile, the unholy sonic mess that is the botched start of “The Fly” is one of the carefully-chosen moments of imperfection left in, like Adam Clayton’s bungled bass solo on “Gloria” from the Under a Blood Red Sky live EP a hundred years ago. (Okay, it was 1983, but you know.)

Of course, we’ve never needed U2 to point out their own shortcomings. Witness the wonky close of “With or Without You,” a tune U2 have played at every full-length concert they’ve given since 1987, and still they bungle it as often as they don’t. (For a more assured version, see Rattle and Hum, U2’s prior theatrically-released concert film, from 1988.) But it doesn’t really matter — hearing 70,000 voices wail the song’s bridge is so hair-raising that the rest of the performance is little more than afterthought.

Bono’s sometimes eloquent, sometimes tiresome, always criticized sermonizing is all but absent, perhaps because all of the footage is from concerts in countries where English is not the native tongue. But the centerpiece of the Vertigo Tour shows, wherein “Sunday Bloody Sunday” segues into “Bullet the Blue Sky” while Bono dons a headband/blindfold bearing the command “Coexist,” with an Islamic crescent moon representing the “C,” a star of David the “X”, and a cross the “T,” is as powerful on film as it was in person. A few minutes later, when a recording of a woman reading the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights introduces “Pride (In the Name of Love),” you might have to stop yourself from pumping your fist in righteous solidarity.

You’ll want to stay through the credits, which feature some cool animation effects left over, presumably, from the movie proper, as well as a live performance of “Yahweh.”

“You’re all so much smaller in real life,” Bono once told a concert audience. In U23D, the long-lived Irish quartet has finally found the film format to match their outsized ambition. The World’s Biggest Band has become, beyond all argument, the world’s biggest band. Like, quantifiably. Seems appropriate somehow.

U23D opens Jan. 23 at the National Museum of Natural History’s Johnson IMAX Theatre. Advance tickets are available here. The film, if you care, is rated G.

The K of D

thekofd-kimberlygilbert-heron-by-stanbarouh-6036-1.jpgMy review of Woolly’s debut production of Laura Schellhardt’s  prismatic spook-story, brought vividly to life by Kimberly Gilbert (pictured) and director John Vreeke, is on DCist today.  Read it, then go see it.  I know what’s good for you.

Dipped My Wick

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 . . . into The Inkwell, Capitol City’s latest playwright-focused theatre company, for DCist.

Santa’s Big Olde Bag, opened

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

Prologue: This is Christmas music! The first voice you hear is that of De’voreaux White as Argyle, the poontang-loving young limo driver who spent a memorable late-80s Christmas Eve locked in the parking garage beneath “Nakatomi Plaza” (actually the 20th Century Fox building) in Los Angeles. They made a movie about it, and that film is universally hailed as the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It’s called Under Siege. No, wait, it was Passenger 57. Um, Sudden Death? No, no, only kidding, merry-makers. It’s Die Hard, the once and future king of action pics.Once can only hope that IMDB is not an accurate reflection of De’voreaux’s recent career: His last screen credit is from eight years ago, in Shadow Hours. In the role of “Second Tranvestite.” Hey, remember when Ray Charles shot at a very young De’voreaux when he tried to pinch a guitar from Ray’s music shop in The Blues Brothers? That was awesome.

Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag. (The Bellrays, 2005) – Yep, Lisa Kekaula, that mic is on.

Ding! Dong! Death! (May Be Your Santa Claus!) (Sufjan Stevens, 2003; preacher recording found by Andy Cirzan, origin unknown) – A mash-up, albeit a very primitive one, of my own design. I started out with like, half-a-dozen pieces culled from Sufjan’s remarkable set of five Christmas EPs recorded each December from 2001 through 2005, and in June 2006. The latter is the one that includes “Christmas in July,” as well as “Jupiter Winter,” “Sister Winter,” and “The Winter Solstice,” most of each stand out as notably depressing even among this, whose five volumes comprise one of the most muted Christmas albums ever. Thanks for bringing us all down, Sufjan.

Save the Overtime (For Me). (Dees, Gallo, Knight, Knight, Schwarzenegger, 1983) – Surely the best of the Governator’s collaborations with Gladys Knight and the Pips. Squats are an excellent exercise.

I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You. (Margo Guryan, date unknown) – She’s a creepy broad, ain’t she? But tuneful.

Brian Wilson Reveals All. Behold the startingly revelatory, probingly incisive, revealingly probing, piercingly insightful secrets of Wilson’s creative process explicated here. Josh du Lac got some good stuff out of Wilson a few weeks back, like the fact that Phil Spector is “Zany!”

Melekalikimaka. (Al Jardine, Mike Love, 1974) – “’Melekalikimaka’ is ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaii talk-a.’” This kind of thing, really, is what this compilation is all about. A powerful argument that Jardine and Love were the real brain trust behind the Beach Boys.

Pearl Harbor Didn’t Work Out, So . . . (Steven E. DeSouza & Jeb Stuart, 1987) – I had a film studies textbook in college that claimed Die Hard was subtly, or perhaps unsubtly, racist, sexist, xenophobic and every other damn thing, just because it’s about a heroic white Reagan-voter who takes down a crew of slumming Royal Shakespeare Company types, including ballerina Alexander Gudanov and some American guy who looks eerily like Huey Lewis. The film supposedly espouses contempt for invading Japanese conglomerates, professional women who eschew their spouses’ last names (lots of stuff about that Rolex on Holly McClane/Gennaro’s wrist that Hans Gruber is hanging on at the end of the movie) and relegates not one but two black actors to sidekick roles. What an awesome movie.

Daddy Won’t Be Home Again for Christmas. (Merle Haggard, 1973) – This just in: Hag’s a shitty father. No clue here what’s keeping him away. Not prison, since he can write that “little check” that he’s hoping, puzzlingly, “will fit.” Is “forget” a really hard word to rhyme?

Sleazy Con Men in Red Suits. (Randy Kornfield) – Jingle All the Way is remembered as an epic, cautionary failure, but which I submit to you is not even among the five worst films released in 1996. Freed from its distracting visuals, the film’s audio, tastefully excerpted here, reveals a surprising profundity and even grace. Well played, Randy Kornfield, well played.

Christmas Present Blues. (Jimmy Webb, ?) – My prose is not worthy.

Snokenstein. (?) – The first of many, many treasures here that I appropriated from Andy Cirzan’s bizarro Christmas compilations as featured each year on Sound Opinions. Andy is on the show again this weekend, and I fully expect him to bring plenty of obscure wonders and oddities that you can bet will show up on my compilation next year.

A Great Big Sled. (Brandon Flowers, 2006) – Nobody will ever accuse Flowers of being a great lyricist, but I would have been delighted to have penned the line “little boys have action toys for brains” myself. I’m living proof it can last a long time. Way better than anything on Sam’s Town, the lyrically-impaired Killers album released a couple months prior to this.

The Ultimate Stretch. (Journey feat. Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger) – I just love hearing The Terminator talk over that opening vamp of “Don’t Stop Believing.” I guess we’ll never know whether Tony Soprano finished all 30 of the pushups.

Reindeer Roll Call. (Kornfield) – Listen to how Arnold is just mercilessly taunting Sinbad as he outruns him. “I’m having a good time now,’bye!” If you’ve seen Pumping Iron, then you know that workaholic salesman Howard Langston is probably the role truest to Arnold’s real-life personality, especially once his competitive juices get flowing. Jingle All the Way really does require repeat viewings to fully absorb its many insights into the Gubernatorial mind.

. . . and many, many more!

It’s Irish Genius Week in my Clip File!

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po-faced [poh-feyst] – adjective, Chiefly British. having an overly serious demeanor or attitude; humorless.

And U2 Week in the Style section at the Paper of Record, apparently, what with yesterday’s gushing front-page profile of Bono, my review of the 20th Anniversary reissue of The Joshua Tree in today’s paper. Maybe I’ll post a longer version of that review here. Or maybe I’ll just say “enough is enough” and get on with my life, too much of which has already gone to cutting that thing down to the not-ungenerous length at which it ran. Verily, writing about your sacred cows can be a tricky business.

The other Irish genius of whom I speak would be Samuel Beckett. The National Theatre of Great Britain Production of his 1961 Happy Days starring Fiona Shaw is at the Kennedy Center’s Terrance Theatre for a short run of concluding the day after tomorrow. I reviewed it for DCist. Not exactly light entertainment — for that, there’s A Christmas Carol 1941 at Arena, which I took my parents to the following night; DCist review forthcoming — but, you know, thought-provoking, imaginative, ballsy. Beckettian, I guess.

Catch as Catch-All Can

2007_1001_jonlangford.jpgJon Langford is a much more jovial and approachable cat than he appears in this photo.

Well, once again I’ve done a bang-up job of keeping you, my adoring public, up-to-date on the latest additions to my ever-swelling bibliography.

It’s already been a week since I reviewed that good-but-not-quite great Rilo Kiley show for DCist. I heard night two was better. Jenny Lewis, I am sad to report, while plenty toothsome, is not quite as fetching in real life as she appears in this photo. She sounded great, though

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My interview with original mekon, Waco Brother, Pine Valley Cosmonaut and Waco Brother Jon Langford appeared on Monday. It got cut down a bit from its original, arguably more self-aggrandizing incarnation, so I may post the unabridged version here. The mekons show at Jammin’ Java that night was just swell; 11o or so minutes of mostly-acoustic mekes, including a big batch from the new Natural LP as well as reworked classics like “Hard to Be Human Again,” “The Curse,” a Sally Timms-sung version of “The Letter,” and “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem.” Langford signed my copy of Nashville Radio for me afterwards.

p-j-harvey.jpgMy so-so review of P.J. Harvey’s White Chalk ran Tuesday in the Paper of Record. I seem to be breaking with the critical cognoscenti on this one; nearly everyone else loves it. I think it’s, you know, good for when you’re a certain type of mood. Solitary. Despondent. Sylvia Plath. I try not to spend a lot of my life in that mood.

That afternoon, I got some nice props from a reader (and from J. Freedom du Lac his own bad, bald self) during the Freedom Rock web-chat — about my Elvis Costello review from four-plus months ago! It reads like I planted it myself; check it out. (For the record, I didn’t join the chat until later, to make the case for Tunnel of Love being as strong a Bruce Springsteen album as Born to Run or Nebraska.)
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And my Bat Boy review is up today.

Tomorrow I’m talking to Josh Ritter. Watch this space for out-of-date announcements!